The readings for this week included Marco Guigni’s “The Outcomes of the Occupy Movement: Which Lessons Can We Draw from the Social Movement Literature?”
Guigni’s work brings about many good points relating to the Occupy Movement and asks: “Will the movement last?” and “What are its outcomes?” These questions have been discussed in our course before, especially considering how the Occupy Movement has been framed as a “movement without demands” by many forces. I found it interesting that Guigni mentions how “social movements are more like to be successful when they can take advantage of a favorable public opinion and open political opportunity structures.” I found these ideas to be directly related to my work on the Farm Workers Movement of the 1960s. More specifically, how the Farm Workers Movements, and specifically the United Farm Workers, were able to re-frame a labor dispute among farm workers into a civil rights dispute that involved structural racial and ethnic discrimination and inequality. In this sense, the UFW were able to tap into the public attention generated by the Civil Rights Movements in the south, led by the Black Community, to raise attention to the labor disputes in California and in the entire agriculture industry.
Guigni also points out that the impact of the Occupy Movement may be more cultural than political. He points this out to address the demand for outcomes that has surrounded the Occupy Movement. As opposed to centralized and formal organizations that operate within social movements and make demands within the boundaries of existing institutional structures, the de-centralized and informal nature of Occupy has led many to discount the serious implications that the movement can generate. Again, Guigni addresses this by offering alternatives means of understanding the impact and outcomes of social movements, including the cultural dimensions that they can influence. These cultural changes can then become political changes at some other point in time, so understanding the outcomes of social movements may require stepping away from chronological, temporal, and linear thinking and instead welcome organic and cyclical alternatives.
I found Guigni’s concept of “spillover” to be very interesting to say the least. However, it seemed to me that Guigni’s comments related to Occupy and “spillover” seemed a bit romanticized. For example, Guigni states: “…We can expect the Occupy Movement to leave a legacy that will bear its fruits in the future, opening the democratic space for new waves of contention and citizens’ political participation.” Perhaps I am overanalyzing this very short paragraph that could not have possibly included thorough counter-arguments due to format, but I can’t help but think of negative spillover or even backlash from current movements. For example, while I cannot deny the biographic impact of activism that is surely a part of the Occupy Movement’s outcomes, I can’t help but to think that Occupy must first overcome the “What has Occupy really accomplished?” rhetoric that has been generated by powerful opposition forces. Also, to what degrees can the notion of spillover be applicable over time instead of across geography? Perhaps the biographical impacts of activism can shed light on this.
I found Guigni’s notion of “biographical impact” to be very similar to Paulo Freire’s concept of “conscientización,” or the development of socio-political consciousness and empowerment through direct action. I do not doubt the biographical impact that The Occupy Movement and other decentralized movements have had on those involved. This developing of consciousness cannot be overlooked, because it can be central to determining the involvement of actors in future political action.
On the other hand, perhaps to pose devil’s advocate, I ask, can training a new generation of young protesters ever be wrong? From the viewpoint of a democratic society, I would say no. However, there are several factors that lead me to problematize the approach of the new generation of young protesters that the Occupy Movement is creating. For one, learning from the mistakes of past movements must be given priority. For example, many groups from the social movements of the 1960s fell apart from within because they replicated social inequalities like misogyny and homophobia. The Chican-O Movement became the Chican-A (The “O” for masculine and “A” for feminine in Spanish) movement when misogynistic and patriarchal structures aimed to oppress Chicanas from within the Chicano Movement. As an immigrant and man of color, I worry that a new generation of protesters will emerge that are not attuned to the longstanding struggles of marginalized communities and people of color. Given the leadership demographics of the Occupy Movement as overwhelmingly white, highly educated, and relatively affluent, my only fear is that inequality and inequity will be replicated from within the movement, and consequently leading the movement to not represent the 99% at all. In this sense, the biographical impacts of activism should not be romanticized, because the training of “strongly committed activists” is separate from their standing as right-wing or progressive. I am by no means a pessimist, and I do not believe that it is too late to incorporate communities into the Occupy Movement that have been struggling for social justice long before the current financial crisis. Only time will tell.